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German football’s fear of the NFL


The competition comes from the USA – and yet it’s only a click away for sports fans: the professional football league NFL is becoming more and more of a threat to the Bundesliga. The new Bayern CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen (55) says: “For me, the NFL is a competitor, of course!”

The Munich Arena, which was sold out with 70,000 spectators, was the host of the first regular NFL game in Germany in autumn 2022: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers with superstar quarterback Tom Brady (45) played against the Seattle Seahawks. According to NFL Germany boss Alexander Steinforth, three million tickets could have been sold.

Two more NFL games will take place in Frankfurt in November: Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (27) against the Miami Dolphins on November 5 and the New England Patriots against the Indianapolis Colts a week later. The new rights holder RTL will broadcast both games live on free TV. This time, too, the onslaught was tremendous.

All tickets for the first game were sold out within minutes. “All tickets in general ticket sales are now sold out,” the organizer announced on Tuesday. The number of interested parties was huge and exceeded the million mark. Most went away empty-handed, as only 48,000 fans can see the game in the stadium. Tickets are already being offered for resale on the Internet at exorbitant, sometimes four-digit, prices. Depending on the category, one usually costs between 75 and 225 euros. Ticket sales for the Colts game will increase on July 11th.

Does the NFL show the Bundesliga how international marketing works perfectly? Their foreign revenues have collapsed to 160 million euros per year.

Dreesen warns: “The NFL is doing an excellent job of this for strategic reasons, because they know that there is a growing group of younger fans in key European markets. We have to make sure that our target group is retained, precisely because the NFL is also fishing in the same pond.”

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt (58) makes no secret of his great intentions. He announces: “The road to Germany is a very big and important story for the NFL as a whole and for us at the Chiefs too. We already have our own Germany channels on social media platforms and this should only be the beginning. The Chiefs Kingdom is ready to come to Germany!”

The NFL already had the youngest TV audience of all top sports on ProSieben, which has been reporting on the US professional league with “ranNFL” since 2012: 68 percent of the viewers are under 50 years old. For comparison: In the Bundesliga it is 49 percent. The move to RTL from the 2023/24 season, which will then broadcast the players alongside the DAZN streaming service (contract until 2026), is intended to further drive NFL growth in Germany.

How can the NFL boom, to which the sports betting industry also contributes, be explained, especially among younger sports fans? On the one hand, the weaknesses of the Bundesliga play into their hands, including increasing dwarfing by smaller clubs such as Darmstadt and Heidenheim, who will replace the long-range relegated Hertha and Schalke in the new season. In addition, there are missing top stars like Erling Haaland (22), who migrated from BVB to Manchester City. Lack of tension in the championship fight with the last eleven titles of FC Bayern in a row. A lack of international success and the national team, which has been in a bad form for years, lead to a migration to other sports.

The advantage of the NFL: more excitement through more balance. Responsible for this are three points that differ fundamentally from the system of European football.

The fact that each game is staged as a spectacle with great entertainment value also contributes to its great attractiveness. The pinnacle: the Super Bowl. This year, 250 million viewers watched worldwide. What the halftime show with pop singer Rihanna was responsible for. The net playing time of the big final was just eleven minutes.

To ensure that the NFL boom in Germany is not just a temporary trend, measures are also being taken that also affect the Bundesliga. It’s about the offspring. The NFL is expanding its so-called flag football program. In Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf, the NFL supports selected schools with equipment, teaching materials and professional contacts. To arouse enthusiasm for American football in the children via the low-contact version. This year alone, 120 more schools were added to the program. Offspring who could be lost to football.

The Bundesliga has recognized the danger. And individual clubs react cleverly – with NFL cooperations. In addition to FC Bayern, who work with the Kansas City Chiefs, this also includes Eintracht Frankfurt, which entered into a partnership with the Carolina Panthers at the end of 2022. Club boss Axel Hellmann (51) sees “new additions for us in the US market, which will continue to gain in importance in football, not least because of the 2026 World Cup”.

So-called “watch parties” of selected Eintracht games are planned in Charlotte with the support of the Panthers in order to win new business partners.

Should the Bundesliga, like the NFL, also play games abroad? Bayern boss Dreesen rules this out: “I can’t imagine at all that we’re touring around the world with the Bundesliga.”

The article was written for the sports competence center (WELT, SPORT BILD, BILD) and first published in SPORT BILD.